Diversity inspires PBSC STEM scholarship winners
Kavita Braun and Carlos Becerra, both excelling in STEM-related studies at Palm Beach State College, were among 15 students to win $1,000 scholarships from the Ford Motor Company Fund at the STEM Summit co-hosted by the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities.
The PBSC students competed against more than 30 sophomores, juniors and seniors from area universities, who gathered Oct. 9 at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach to learn about jobs and internships in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields. To compete for the Ford/HACU STEM Summit scholarship, students needed a minimum 3.0 grade point average and had to write an essay on “Why is Diversity Important for Innovation?”
Kavita Braun tackled her essay from her perspective as an immigrant, a woman and a minority of West Indian heritage. Braun, who has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Florida State University, works in the Florida Attorney General’s office in West Palm Beach as administrative manager for the South Florida Bureau of the Consumer Protection Division. While she enjoys working for the government and for the betterment of people, she wants to do so as an engineer. Now completing her prerequisites at Palm Beach State, Braun will be transferring next term to Florida Atlantic University for her Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering.
“In high school I took advanced classes in math, but it was so difficult for me,” says Braun. “I would tell all 14-18 year-old-girls that if you can do well in a class—no matter if it’s hard for you or not—if you can do it, you can do it and that’s the bottom line. Eventually it will come easy to you. I wish I had that wisdom and foresight when I was 18 or 19.”
Braun, 33, found out about the scholarship from PBSC Math Club advisor Professor Alex Opritsa, who also taught her trigonometry class her first semester back at school in January 2014. “Professor Opritsa really bolstered my confidence and nominated me for an award. I won the Excellence in Mathematics award for that year for the Lake Worth campus.”
Carlos Becerra came to Palm Beach County 10 years ago from Colombia. A graduate of Lake Worth Community High School, he holds down a full-time job with 3-D Medical Manufacturing while working toward an Associate in Arts degree, the first step toward his bachelor’s and then master’s degree in computer science. Becerra is a participant in the CAPTURE program, a state grant-funded partnership between PBSC and FAU to give students a seamless pathway from an associate degree to a bachelor’s degree from FAU’s College of Engineering and Computer Science.
With clear career goals that include working for a major industry player like IBM or Citrix, Becerra is most drawn to computer programming. “That’s the main thing. I also like research and creating the programming itself. I like the science behind programming language,” he says. Due to his work schedule and desire to keep on track, Becerra juggles classes on three PBSC campuses to fit his tight schedule and plans to graduate at the end of the 2016 summer term.
Becerra, 24, found out about the scholarship through his CAPTURE contacts and was glad for the opportunity. “I have to pay my bills and everything by myself, so any kind of money is really helpful.”
Besides the scholarship, Becerra and Braun benefited greatly from the free one-day summit, which focused on helping students develop networking and interviewing skills. Students also met individually with corporate representatives and received résumé feedback. “I met a lot of people from Florida International University and other universities around here,” says Becerra. “I also gave my résumé to the HACU organization. They are going to try to help me get an internship.”
Knowing the essay was critical to receiving the scholarship, Becerra sought guidance from Palm Beach State’s writing lab, one of the free support services open to students. “It really helped to submit a good essay.”
Excerpt from Kavita Braun’s essay:
“Diversity exponentially propels innovation, whether it be demographic diversity (race, economic status, religion, etc.), professional diversity (engineers, scientists, mathematicians, etc.), or cognitive diversity (personality and perspective). A diverse team will almost always invent a more multidimensional outcome than a group of like-minded individuals.”
Excerpt from Carlos Becerra’s essay:
“There is a direct connection between diversity in the workforce and innovation. For that reason metro regions like San Francisco, Boston, New York and Silicon Valley are among the best places to start a tech company and, not coincidentally, they happen to be the most diverse and inclusive communities in the United States. Simply put, entrepreneurs are interested in places where diversity is abundant.”